All the Extra-Sweet Holiday Decorations Can’t Disguise the Fact That ‘Last Christmas’ is Really About Doing the Work to Take Care of Ourselves

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson, Lydia Leonard, Boris Isakovic, Peter Mygind

Director: Paul Feig

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Young Adults Getting Themselves Into Hot Mess Situations

Release Date: November 8, 2019

If you’re the type who likes to speculate before going to see a movie, then you may have surmised that a twist is afoot in Last Christmas. And it’s probably pretty close to (if not exactly) the twist you think it is, especially if you’ve noticed that in the trailer, nobody interacts with Henry Golding’s Tom besides Emilia Clarke’s Kate and if you’ve remembered the lyrics to the Wham! song that serves as this film’s namesake and inspired the plot. It’s not as if Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings’ script or Paul Feig’s direction is trying too hard to hide the reveal, as early scenes feature Tom using goofy evasive maneuvers (that nobody but Kate seems to notice) to avoid bumping into passing pedestrians. The success of Last Christmas does not hinge on the twist, thankfully, though I do wonder what it would have been like if it had showed its more hand earlier. The choice to keep things under wraps does make sense considering the story’s perspective, at least, and either way, the message about finding the inner strength to re-discover our best selves shines through.

The other big hook of Last Christmas is that Kate is in long-term recovery mode following a health scare a year earlier that necessitated a heart transplant. Physically, she seems to be doing just fine now, but mentally it’s another story. She appears to be suffering from undiagnosed depression, which is leading to a pattern of poor decisions: hooking up with a series of one-night stands, causing general destruction while couch surfing at her friends’ apartments, neglecting to lock up for the night while leaving work. Her current inability to fulfill the personality requirements of her job as a department store elf (under the employ of a shop owner who calls herself “Santa,” no less) could not be starker. Meanwhile, she’s also got plenty of stress emanating from her family, thanks to an overbearing mother (Thompson) who won’t stop calling her, a sister (Lydia Leonard) keeping her sexuality a secret from their parents, a father (Boris Isakovic) who systematically avoids conflict, and the long-term trauma of having grown up in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.

Thus, with everything so heavy in Kate’s life, I didn’t bat an eye at Tom’s saintly perfection, as this was exactly what she needed, and while skepticism can be healthy, it’s foolish to complain about something definitively good. He may suddenly show up without warning, but he knows exactly what to say to get Kate feeling like herself again. On top of that, he somehow manages to get by in this modern digitized world without carrying his phone around all the time and he (what else?) volunteers at a homeless shelter. His only shortcoming is that he has a habit of disappearing for days on end, only returning by some unpredictable whim. When he’s present, he provides the sort of emotional support that is essential for Kate right now and that we all require to get by as human beings. When he’s gone, it’s a test for her to learn that maybe she has that support within herself to get by on her own.

Last Christmas ends with Kate,, the full picture of health and 100% in the Christmas mood, putting on a little show in support of the homeless shelter. All her loved ones new and old are there to support her, and if that sounds a little too perfect, well, it probably is. We have at least seen Kate get to this point of fulfillment, so her triumph isn’t frustrating. But we haven’t quite spent the same time with her family to know that they’ve also been able to work through all their burdens. Maybe, though, we can assume that they too have had their own mysterious visitors who have helped them along, and then we can go on and sing some happy carols.

Last Christmas is Recommended If You Like: George Michael music, Some sort of combination of Love Actually, Fleabag, and BoJack Horseman

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Comical Eastern European Accents

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This Is a Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

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(c) Lucasfilm Ltd. and TM. All Rights Reserved.

This post was originally published on News Cult in May 2018.

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Director: Ron Howard

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Lasers and Space Derring-Do

Release Date: May 25, 2018

Nobody can play Han Solo as iconically as Harrison Ford, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Now that we actually have Alden Ehrenreich’s version to dissect, we can render a more practical verdict about just how successful he is or isn’t. And while indeed young Solo has nothing on classic Solo, the task is not necessarily as impossible as originally advertised, which we know because we do not have to look far to find someone else pulling off that goal, as Donald Glover’s take on Lando Calrissian manages to be just as iconic as, if not more so (time will tell, ultimately), Billy Dee Williams’ version.

To be fair, Glover probably has the easier task, insofar as it is the less restricted one. While Ford is one of the major players in four Star Wars films, Williams only has about 15 minutes of screen time across two episodes. Ergo, Glover has plenty more freedom to fill in the blanks and create new blanks never hinted at previously, while Ehrenreich is locked into coloring necessary backstory, like earning the life debt that Chewie owes him and making the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. But the biggest difference is in the quality of preparation. Glover feels like someone who has been auditioning to play Lando his whole life, while Ehrenreich feels like someone who has been training to be an actor, and maybe more specifically a movie star, but not so specifically Han Solo in particular. That specificity and passion is almost certainly necessary to pull off the job of simultaneously paying homage to a famous character and making it one’s own. Maybe there are some folks out there who have been playing Han Solo in front of the mirror their whole lives, but Ehrenreich is probably not one of them. He gets the job done, but he does not take it to the next level.

Solo does not rely entirely on checking off a bunch of backstory checkpoints. Like any well-bred Star Wars movie, it is populated with a menagerie of diverse characters. As far as the new faces go, most prominent are Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, Han’s childhood friend and partner-in-crime, and Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, Han’s smuggling mentor. They are appropriately cast, but they feel like could be any Emilia Clarke or Woody Harrelson character, as opposed to the roles of a lifetime that add new definition to what a Star War can be. Same goes for crime lord Dryden Vos, who can be easily and unfussily added to Paul Bettany’s murderers’ row of villain roles.

But not-so-quietly revolutionary is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion-capture performance as L3-37, Lando’s feisty, herky-jerky droid companion. Waller-Bridge’s success comes from a starting point totally opposite of Glover’s, as she had never seen a Star Wars film before auditioning. Consequently, her performance is not beholden to any droids that have preceded her. She takes full advantage of the individuality inherent to a set of beings that seem to have plenty of free will despite also being conditioned by their programming. Her relationship with Lando suggests an open-minded (pansexual even) imagination that might as well be explored in a cinematic universe as vast as this one. And therein lies a template for keeping fresh the perhaps infinite number of future Star Wars: anchor them in a deepened spin on the familiar while introducing a high-risk, wholly fresh concoction.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is Recommended If You Like: Community’s Star Wars homages, Watching poker when you have no idea what the rules are, Human-cyborg relations

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Parsecs

 

This Is a Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

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Arnie-Smile-Genisys

Terminator Genisys basically ignores the third and fourth movies in the series, but it should be noted that 3 and 4 do not really grapple with their predecessors, at least not very meaningfully. T3 backtracks on the message of T2, while Salvation merely fills in the blanks in a way that mostly stands on its own. Genisys, meanwhile, crisscrosses 1 and 2, while new machinations try to prevent or delay the victory or defeat of Skynet. It does not completely stand as its own thing, but there is so much thrown together (mostly gracefully), that it works as something. It manages to be fascinating, at least in an academic sense.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese’s interactions are colored by the knowledge of destiny, as they grapple with how to or how not to fulfill the roles that have already been set for them. It is a fairly effective treatise on the nature of stories in which the characters “know” what they are “supposed” to do. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney’s performances are not much more than serviceable, but maybe that is the point. Maybe in being locked into their roles, they cannot add too much extra color.

The most consistent draw of this series remains The Terminator himself. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been on a bit of a hot streak in finding relaxed, playful subtleties in his performances, and that continues here, as his awkward cyborg smiles are just exactly right. Also, J.K. Simmons shows up as a beat cop who gets caught up in everything, and he is completely superfluous but very much welcome.

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”